Propulsion replacement program complete
By Senior Airman Dillon White, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
/ Published August 19, 2009
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- The 150th Minuteman III solid-propellant booster replaced under the propulsion replacement program at Malmstrom was lowered into Launch Facility Echo-08 Aug. 18, extending the service life of the "First Aces" through 2020.
The first MMIII replacement booster was delivered to Air Force Space Command in April 2001. The overall cost of the program was about $2 billion.
"This program is absolutely vital to the continued reliability of the Minuteman III weapon system," said Col. Jeffrey Frankhouser, 341st Maintenance Group commander. "We conducted many studies over the years and successfully determined when the right time was to remanufacture these motors ahead of need."
Because of that forethought and effort, the Air Force's missiles will retain their huge role as part of a viable and capable deterrent force for many more years to come, Colonel Frankhouser said.
"When you roll this program in with the others we've executed as part of our broader ICBM sustainment plan, you can be very confident that the missile on alert out there today has never been more capable," he said.
Replacement of a MMIII booster begins with the arrival of the new booster to Malmstrom and careful inspection for damage, said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Kitchell, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron missile handling team site supervisor.
"We conduct inspections on the surface of the booster for scrapes and dents that may have occurred during transportation," he said. "We also check the nozzles for any damage. Damage to the booster could prevent it from operating properly."
After Airmen at MHT inspect the 68,000 pound booster, it must be loaded into one of Malmstrom's transporter erectors. To accomplish this, the transporters are backed up to each other, and bolted together with an interlocking plate.
The booster, cradled atop steel-wheeled carriages that traverse metal rails similar to train tracks, is slowly rolled from one trailer to the other by four Airmen.
The same process is used when MHT rolls old boosters from TEs to transport vehicles.
On the day prior to pulling an old booster or emplacing a new one, MHT drives to the launch facility with members of the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron in passenger vehicles to ensure roads are safe, gravel roads are passable and the TE driver is familiar with the route.
"They are driving almost every day," Sergeant Kitchell said. "It's a lot of responsibility for our young [Airmen 1st Class] and [Senior Airmen.] It's neat. Driving down 10th Avenue is as close as we get to being on a flight line."
When the team arrives at a launch facility, missile maintenance teams open the 110-ton launch enclosure door, and MHT attaches the TE's trailer to the top of the LF with large bolts. This provides a solid hinge for the TE to hydraulically lift the trailer 90 degrees so Airmen can lower the booster into the LF.
Before raising the trailer, the inside must be swept for loose tools or any possible misplaced items, as they will fall and could potentially damage the booster or Airmen in the LF, said Senior Airman Derek Baker, 341st MMXS MHT technician.
"You have to have attention to detail," he said.
When Airmen are done preparing the missile to be lowered into the LF, they count all their tools and team chief verifies everything is secure.
Once the missile is lowered into place, Airmen from missile maintenance and electromechanical teams reassemble the upper portion and bring it back on alert.
"Our Airmen perform absolute quality maintenance, and they do it in every environment Montana can throw at them," Colonel Frankhouser said. "90 above or 30 below, our people are trained to do it right and do it safe, every time. That's what the mission demands, that's what the American people should expect, and that's what we deliver. Working every day with these motivated and dedicated professionals has been the highlight of my career!"